Written by Don Glen
Kita Onsen (2) - Experience The Ambiance Of An Edo Period Hot Spring
Kita Onsen in Tochigi prefecture is a well-established hot springs facility, where visitors can enjoy bathing in several types of baths that have excellent curative properties. Find out more about this amazing facility and its hot spring baths!
Kita Onsen is a hot spring inn in Tochigi prefecture, with a history going back several centuries ago. We have introduced the fascinating history of this inn in the first part of this article: Kita Onsen In Tochigi (1): Travel Back In Time To A Secluded Onsen Inn
In this second part, we will introduce the services that the facility offers to its visitors - from its highly praised hot spring baths to the local dishes that can be enjoyed here.
Setting for the Movie "Thermae Romae"
Kita Onsen was the filming location for the movie "THERMAE ROMAE" that was released on April 28, 2012. The story is a comedy about Lucius, an architect of public bath houses in ancient Rome, who time-travels to various modern-day baths in Japan and explores the two cultures in the world of those who “have loved baths the most: the Japanese and the Romans". Kita Onsen was chosen as the location for the heroine’s parents’ house. The original manga was written by Mari Yamazaki and movie was directed by Hideki Takeuchi.
Kita Onsen Water and Its Curative Properties
For those onsen aficionados interested in details, here is brief technical analysis of the curative properties of Kita Onsen waters. There are three main springs feeding the Kita Onsen, and each of them is a bit different but all are classified as a simple hot spring. It is a clear, tasteless unscented thermal spring with a source temperature of 56 degrees Celsius, a pH level of 6.2, slight iron content and an incredible natural flow volume of 1,620 liters per minute.
According to water analysis done in early Meiji and later, the curative properties include: treatment of women's illnesses, neuralgia, arthralgia, muscular pain, fatigue, poor circulation, bruises, stomach and intestine diseases, skin diseases, hemorrhoids, and infertility. According to Kita Onsen, since this is a naturally flowing hot spring, the water is softer making it very beneficial to the skin, unlike hot spring water produced by drilling. While not a real bath, “Taki no yu” refers to the hot spring water source gushing out and flowing down the mountain behind the onsen.
Kita Onsen Baths
There are seven hot spring baths which are gravity-fed from the source behind the onsen. Inside there are baths for men and women along with one for mixed bathing. There is also a separate family bath you can reserve. There are three outdoor baths (rotemburo), one each for men and women and the large “swimming” pool bath. The water in this giant bath changes every six hours which attests to the voluminous hot water flow of Kita Onsen. When you enter the bathing areas, you’ll notice that the concrete floors and walls are tainted with colors of brown, white, and black resulting from years of the endless flow of hot spring water.
Kita Onsen’s Origin – Tengu no yu
The oldest and best-known bath is "Tengu no Yu". It is an indoor mixed bath. The huge 1-meter tall Tengu masks looking down, the steam rising and the sound of the strong flow of hot water create a strange but relaxing mood. At 43.3 degree Celsius, some may find it a bit on the hot side.
Women Only Bath – Me no yu
The only bath solely for women is "Me no yu" which was originally known as "Hime no yu" ("Bath of the Princess"). The bath offers superb panoramic views. Reportedly, the bath water is effective in treating eye problems. This bath is located in the Meiji era building.
Riverside Outdoor Bath
The Kawara no yu outdoor bath, next to the Yosase River, has excellent views of the surrounding woods and calming sounds of the river. The bath temperature is lower than in Tengu no yu.
Bath Huts - Ai no yu
Ai no yu is a bath located adajacent to the giant bathing pool and consists of two separate, small baths for men and women.
Utase no yu (which was also known as Fudo no yu) is dedicated to the God of Fire and is where the first building was constructed in 1692. Since hot water falls from above, the bath can be steamy especially during the winter months. Letting the flow of water poring from above massage your back is very relaxing.
Swimming Pool Bath – Oyogiyu
The awesome Oyogiyu ("swimming bath pool") is the mammoth outdoor, mixed-bathing rotenburo in front of Kita Onsen. One can wear a swimming suit or a simple onsen towel in the bath. Since all baths are gravity–fed and Oyogiyu is at the lowest level, there is a constant flow of hot water which eventually empties into the Yosase River. The Oyogiyu also has the lowest temperature of all the baths at 41 degrees Celsius. It also offers bathers a great opportunity to bathe at night and gaze at the spectacular cosmos.
Rooms, Meals, Amenities and Day Trippers
The lodging fee depends on the building you stay in. Rooms in the Edo period building are called "Matsu" ("Pine"), Meiji period rooms are "Take" ("Bamboo") and Showa period rooms are "Ume" ("Plum"). Current (2016) lodging fees per one adult are: Matsu Room - 7,700 yen, Take Room - 8,700 yen, and Ume Room - 9,700 yen. There is no heating except for a kotatsu in the Matsu and Take rooms. The Ume rooms have both a kotatsu and a small gas heater. There is a total of 43 rooms.
Note: One also puts out their own futon (floor bedding).
Breakfast and supper meals are a rather simple fair but healthy and tasteful.
Amenities are limited and you’ll need to bring along towels, shampoo, rinse and soap. In some baths, shampoo or soap is prohibited since the hot water washes your body just like soap, while another bath moisturizes your skin.
For those visiting the onsen for therapeutic purposes, there is a discount of 500 - 1,000 yen for staying longer than 4 days.
For those just visiting for the day, the cost is only Yen 700. Use the automatic ticket vending machine in the lobby to purchase your ticket.
Interesting Sites Nearby
Adjacent to the public parking lot, there’s an observation deck overlooking Komadome Fall ("The Horse-reining Waterfall") where in the past travelers and horses rested along a road that linked Nasu and Aizu.
Nasu Yuzen Jinja (Nasu Hot Spring Shrine)
Address: 182 Yumoto, Nasu-machi, Nasu, Tochigi
Sessho-seki (The Killing Stone)
Address: 182 Yumoto, Nasu-machi, Nasu, Tochigi
Mt. Nasudake and Nasu Ropeway- One of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains
The cable car is spacious and the windows are large so you can enjoy a 360-degree view of Nasu Plateau area. From the upper ropeway station to the summit is a 40-50 minutes hike.
Access to Kita Onsen
JR Tohoku Shinkansen: Tokyo or Ueno Station to Nasu-Shiobara Station
JR Tohoku Line: Ueno Station - Kuroiso Station
JR Expressway Bus: Shinjuku Tokyo to Nasu-Shiobara. This is probably the most direct and least expensive option. As of December 2016, a roundtrip ticket was 6,070 yen. Get out the west exit of the Nasu-Shiobara Station and take the Toya bus departing from bus platform No. 3.
Taking a taxi from Kuroiso or Nasu-Shiobara would avoid time waiting for the bus and would cost about 3,000 yen to go directly to the parking lot near Kita Onsen. A taxi would definitely be the best option with limited bus service between December 1st and March 31st.
Local Bus: Toya Bus (Japanese only website)
Be aware that there is limited bus service from December 1st to March 31st. During this period there are only two buses a day.